Monday, November 4, 2013

Cobra CPI 480 Review: 0/5 POS

After two years on the road, our generic Shop Force inverter bit the dust. We replaced it in Panama at our favorite store, Machetazo. We had the choice between two inverters, a generic one that looked just like the Shop Force for $40, or a slightly smaller one with USB output made by Cobra for $52. We decided to spend the extra $12 for the name brand, hoping you get what you pay for.

Well, you don't. The Cobra CPI 480 just might be the biggest piece of shit we've ever spent money on. It failed after one month, when all it was used for, other than one short session with the Dremel tool, was charging a laptop. When I measured zero ohms across the input terminals, I knew it was toast. We took it to a repair shop in the small town of Villa de Leyva, Colombia. The repair shop was only the size of a double wide toll booth, yet there was already another Cobra CPI 480 on the shelf, waiting to be repaired.

It had the same problem as mine, a blown transistor. Lucky for me, these inverters use a pair of these transistors. The repair guy pulled the good one from the other inverter and soldered it into mine. Of course, it's obvious that Cobra has a class problem, so who knows how long these transistors will last. The repair guy recommended some better transistors that I could use when these fail, but he didn't have any in stock, so we'll be on the look out.

When we got back to the truck, I googled "Cobra CPI 480 review". PC Magazine gave it 2.5 instead of 3.5 stars because 2 out of 3 test units failed. The first one failed after 2 days, and the second failed a week later. WTF? Failure of 2 out of 3 test units should earn you 0.0 stars. PC Magazine also claimed that the Cobra was made of black plastic and aluminum. Uhh, no. It's all plastic. The middle part is just painted to look like an aluminum heat sink. In reality, it's a thick plastic thermal blanket, the opposite of a heat sink.

From the start, the Cobra irritated us because the fan constantly cycles on and off. Cobra's documentation says this is to prolong the life of the fan, which it might do, but not really important if the transistors fail because they aren't getting properly cooled! Since we have a backup fan that I pulled from our old inverter, I rewired the Cobra to run the fan all the time. I also drilled multiple vent holes and slots in the plastic housing to improve cooling.

Looks like aluminum, but it's not. Holes and slots added to top and side.
If we still have this piece of shit a year from now, it will be because the repairman's transistor recommendations and/or my cooling modifications triumphed over Cobra's dumb ass engineering. I'm hopeful, but not optimistic. That's some powerful stupidity.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Empathy...get some

A former co-worker, let's call her Ellen, recently friended my wife on Facebook. My wife unfriended her after a few weeks. She turned out to be one of those people.

Ellen is on a crusade against Obamacare. She posted a link to The Heritage Foundation data on insurance costs under Obamacare. My wife replied that Heritage is not a source of reliable data, given that it's headed by Jim-we'll make ACA Obama's Waterloo-DeMint. Ellen responded that back in 2009, Obama said some stuff that wasn't true, "specifically about Obamacare". Of course, Ellen didn't specifically say what she was specifically talking about.

In the comments, Ellen continued to rant about all her friends who were going to end up paying more for their insurance. She didn't specifically say what her friends' income levels are, or whether they were paying more for better insurance. Also, no mention of how she could attribute the increase specifically to Obamacare. After all, insurance costs have been going up at an alarming rate every year for decades. That's sort of the whole fucking point of health care reform.

But this is what really pisses me off. Ellen has worked at the same giant corporation for  almost 20 years. She is surely making six figures. Ellen recently went through a two year battle with cancer. She is taking care of her mother who has Alzheimer's. Ellen is scheduled for oral surgery this week. All of this was disclosed on Facebook. Clearly, Ellen has lots of experience with the health care system. Ellen's employer-provided health care is subsidized by the government. Her mother's health care is likely provided entirely by the government in the form of Medicare or Medicaid.

I could be a dick and bitch and moan about that. You know what really drives up insurance costs? Sick people! People who get cancer and Alzheimer's and need oral surgery!

Instead, I have empathy. I'm glad that I don't have cancer. I'm glad that my mother doesn't have Alzheimer's. I'm glad that I don't need a root canal. I'm glad that Ellen and her mother are getting the care they need. However, I want the same for all people and their mothers, not just those that have the luxury of a well paid job with lavish government-subsidized employer-provided health insurance. If that means Ellen and her well-off friends pay a bit more, they should be thankful to be in such a fortunate position.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It's Obama, Stupid!

A trusted adviser pointed out that I'm missing the obvious. The boss only fires or asks for an employee's resignation when the boss is unhappy with the employee's performance. Before Kerry's accidental diplomacy, neither he nor Obama demonstrated much interest in a diplomatic solution to Syria's chemical weapons, so maybe Obama doesn't mind Kerry's apparent failure to seriously pursue diplomacy.

That would explain why Kerry hasn't actually been fired or forced to resign, but it doesn't explain why members of congress or the media aren't calling for his resignation, or at least asking for evidence of Kerry's diplomatic efforts.

Some in congress, like John McCain and Lindsay Graham, always prefer war, but what about those that tend to prefer diplomacy over military action, like Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul? Why aren't they calling for an investigation or Kerry's resignation? Maybe former membership also has it's privileges.

In the media, I don't expect the big boys to rise up and challenge the administration on this issue. They are always willing to hype the next war, and they want to maintain their access to those in power, but what about the little guys? Where are the independent bloggers and the real investigative journalists?

My trusted adviser again suggests the obvious...why don't I ask them? Good idea. Let's see if they'll respond.

UPDATED 10/30/2013: It's been over a month and I haven't read or heard back from anyone on this. The subject quickly changed to the shutdown, the debt ceiling, the Obamacare rollout, and now the NSA spying abuse. I think the details of our near-war with Syria will be lost to history. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

War Mongering Media, Inc. -- This is CNN

I just checked into a hotel in Cartagena, Columbia. While unpacking, I had the TV on CNN. They had a ~10 minute segment on Vladimir Putin. Here were the take-aways:

  • Putin knows how to leverage diplomatic mistakes made by others to Russia's advantage because he was a judo master.
  • Putin proven ability to influence events in Syria will enable him to influence events elsewhere. Where will he strike next!?
  • Putin, if re-elected will match Stalin as Russia's longest serving president. Stalin!

The implication is that Putin/Russia "won" and Obama/USA "lost" in the Syrian agreement to turn over it's chemical weapons to the UN. The only way that framing makes sense is if America never really cared about Syria's chemical weapons, but just wanted to involve ourselves in another mid-east war. That might be the preference of the bogeyman makers and war mongers at CNN, but it's not the preference of the American people. America doesn't lose when other countries agree to deliver what we want.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Someone is wrong on the internet

Is it me? I've been thinking about this old cartoon all week.

In my case, I'm worried that the someone might be me. None of the bloggers I read regularly share my opinion that John Kerry should resign as Secretary of State. I've even waded into the cesspool of their comments sections. None of their readers are calling for his resignation, and those people are crazy. I guess that should be somewhat reassuring, but still, no one sane or insane is supporting my view, and I can't find any new information that forces me to reconsider.

A few days later, I find that the Wall Street Journal has a story titled, "Inside White House, a Head-Spinning Reversal on Chemical Weapons: How the U.S. Stumbled Into an International Crisis and Then Stumbled Out of It" with this teaser:
This account of an extraordinary 24 days in international diplomacy, capped by a deal this past weekend to dismantle Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile, is based on more than two dozen interviews with senior White House, State Department, Pentagon and congressional officials and many of their counterparts in Europe and the Middle East. The events shed light on what could prove a pivotal moment for America's role in the world.
I was excited. This might be the detailed accounting of Kerry's diplomatic efforts I was looking for. Unfortunately, the article was blocked by a pay wall. Unwilling to give a dime to the WSJ, I checked back every day, figuring they'd eventually offer free access to an old story. In the meantime, I was intrigued by the potential irony that not only might I be proved wrong, but proved wrong by the WSJ, which I had just blasted for not disclosing O'Bagy's conflict of interest, as well as their long record of being wrong about everything.

I gave them too much credit. They eventually provided free access to their story, but despite "more than two dozen interviews with senior White House, State Department, Pentagon and congressional officials and many of their counterparts in Europe and the Middle East", the WSJ managed to shed zero light on the history of US negotiations with Syria or Russia. However, they did provide some important details about what congressional leaders were doing when Obama called to inform them that he was going to seek their support:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) was preparing a turkey sandwich in his Louisville, Ky., home when he took the call.
Wow. Now that's the kind of hard hitting reporting I've come to count on from the WSJ. But, with over 24 interviews, how did they miss the obvious follow-up questions: White or whole wheat? Toasted? Mustard, mayo or Miracle Whip?

My next step was to simply google "John Kerry should resign". The #1 link is to John Bolton, George W's neocon UN ambassador. My post is #7! That's disturbing. Bolton, in addition to claiming that Obama is the weakest president since Buchanon, says on Fox News (of course) that Kerry should resign out of principle. Bolton explains that Kerry has been pushing attacks on Syria so hard that Obama's pursuit of a diplomatic solution is such a slap in the face that Kerry should quit in disgust. OK, that's what I expect from the man behind the mustache that is John Bolton, which is not at all the argument I was making.

In between John Bolton and me, one guy is calling for Kerry to resign because he is a Free-Masonic Zionist member of Yale's secret Skull & Bones society. Again, not my argument. The New York Sun relives the Swiftboat campaign, calling for Kerry to resign because his blunder led to "appeasement", claiming that "his whole public life has been a long arc of retreat." Not my argument either. National Freedom Forum thinks Kerry "should resign rather than have his good name attached to this weak and incompetent President," and should jump ship before "Socialist President Obama" makes him the fall guy. Not my argument, and by the way, it's not an accident that I'm not providing links to any of this crap.

There was one guy who called for Kerry's resignation back in June when chemical weapons were first used in Syria. His argument was similar to mine, noting that any Secretary of State should not be the head cheerleader for war. No word on what he thinks about the current situation. Maybe he was silenced by Kerry's Free-Masonic Zionist Skull & Bones allies.

So, it looks like I'm alone here, but without more information about American diplomatic efforts with regard to Syria's chemical weapons, I'm standing by my original response. Kerry should resign or be fired. It's an indictment of both congress and the media that they are not demanding this information. Following his recent distortion of intelligence on Syria, no one owes him the benefit of doubt.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Questioning myself, questioning Kerry

I seem to be the only one on the internet who thinks Kerry should resign or be fired. Are my usual allies so relieved that we stumbled upon an alternative to bombs that they forgive the stumble? It's kind of cool being the lone voice, but also kind of disturbing. Disturbing enough that I'm trying to figure out how I might be wrong. In doing so, I see this via NPR:
Obama also added that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had talked about the plan now on the table both during the recent G-20 meeting in Russia and during another meeting last year in Mexico. 
In other words, the proposal is a true diplomatic breakthrough long in the making. 
So, I'm supposed to believe that bombing Syria was not avoided by Kerry's gaffe, but by a "true diplomatic breakthrough"? Hmm... To help get my head around this, I created a timeline:

8/21 Chemical weapons attack in Syria
8/30 British parliament votes against military action
9/5-6 Meetings between Obama and Putin at G20
9/9 Kerry's infamous gaffe

OK. If the plan on the table was discussed last year at the G20 in Mexico and at the recent G20 in Russia, what exactly happened in the 3-4 days after the G20 that caused Russia, and perhaps Syria, to reverse course? Were they just seizing an opportunity to embarrass Kerry and Obama? Were the US and Russia talking to each other with neither actually talking to Syria? The latter seems very likely to me, as Syria is not a member of the G20.

Either way, I find it very disturbing that the two (two!) cited diplomatic efforts regarding Syria's chemical weapons happened at economic summits that did not include Syria! At the Russian G20, Obama and Putin only met privately for 20 minutes. That does not strike me as a serious diplomatic effort.

Furthermore, both G20 discussions were between Obama and Putin. What exactly has Kerry done with regard to Syria since he became Secretary of State? I want to know with whom he talked, when, and for how long. The fact that this information is not being desperately shoved at the media, as well as Kerry's demonstrated willingness to distort intelligence in favor of military action, makes me skeptical that Kerry has made any attempt at diplomacy.

If I was a member of Congress, if not asking for Kerry's resignation, I would at least be demanding answers for how he got caught completely off guard once again with regards to war in the middle east.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

O'Bagy really is the new Chalabi

That 26-year-old Syria expert really is the new Ahmed Chalabi. Today, she was fired by the Institute for the Study or War for falsely claiming she has a Ph.D

Still waiting for Kerry's resignation. I suspect John McCain and Lindsey Graham will eventually start demanding it if it turns out Kerry's off the cuff remark really does stop them from getting their new war. Also, I'm still waiting for someone/anyone else to call for Kerry's resignation. Am I a lone voice here? Do other people not think that Kerry failed to execute THE central responsibility of the office of Secretary of State?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

John Kerry should resign...

...or be fired. A few days ago, I criticized Secretary of State John Kerry  because he quoted unsubstantiated figures from a 26-year-old Syrian revolutionary over those of our national security agencies. That was an embarrassment, but now, it's much worse.

Responding to a British reporter questioning whether there was anything Syria could do at this point to avoid an American attack, Kerry said this:
Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week…without delay and allow the full and total accounting for that, but he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done, obviously.
What he didn't anticipate was that the Syrian foreign minister would agree, with the support of Vladimir Putin, to transfer chemical weapons to the UN. There are details to work out, and maybe this option will fall through, but happy ending or not, Kerry should still resign or be fired.

John Kerry is not the Secretary of Defense. He is the Secretary of State. If Chuck Hagel had made this comment, I would not be calling for his resignation. As Secretary of Defense, Hagel's job is to provide and execute military options. As Secretary of State, Kerry's job is to provide and execute diplomatic options. He has obviously failed at that task.

Ten years ago, he voted to authorize war in Iraq without doing due diligence on Bush's intelligence claims. Now, Kerry has revealed that he is once again ready to go to war without doing due diligence and without exhausting diplomatic options. He still doesn't take the prospect of war seriously. He has learned nothing. He is an embarrassment, he is a failure, and he should resign or be fired (and I say that as someone who voted for him in 2004).

To anyone that thinks Obama and/or the USA would look bad if Kerry resigns or is fired, what exactly does it look like if he stays?

Friday, September 6, 2013

John Kerry has learned nothing from Iraq

This is depressing. First, via the excellent Marcy Wheeler, John Kerry claims that he and Chuck Hagel were against the Iraq War, even though they both voted for it. That's not news. Kerry, like other Dems who voted for the Iraq AUMF, has been weaselly about this since things started going badly. This part, though, is news:

According to Homeland Security Chair Mike McCaul, Kerry’s claims that only 15 to 25% of the rebels are extremists do not match what the intelligence community has briefed him (they’ve said over half of the fighters are extremists).  
Update: Meanwhile, the source Kerry cites for his estimates on numbers of extremists is a consultant for the rebels. 
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry encouraged members of the House of Representatives to read a Wall Street Journal op-ed by 26-year-old Elizabeth O’Bagy — an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War — who asserted that concerns about extremists dominating among the Syrian rebels are unfounded. 
“Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al-Qaida die-hards,” O’Bagy wrote for the Journal on Aug. 30. “Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces,” she wrote. 
But in addition to her work for the Institute for the Study of War, O’Bagy is also the political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a group that advocates within the United States for Syria’s rebels — a fact that the Journal did not disclose in O’Bagy’s piece.

This is unbelievable. The Wall Street Journal is a horrible newspaper. Their editorialists in particular have an uncanny record of being wrong about nearly everything. I certainly don't approve of their omission of O'Bagy's conflict of interest, but I'm certainly not surprised by it.

I am surprised that the Secretary of State--in a country that spends more on defense and intelligence than the rest of the world combined--ignores his own intelligence agency in favor of an editorial by the new 26-year old "Ahmed Chalabi" in a newspaper that is routinely hostile to his own party. It's an embarrassment, and yet another warning sign that going to war in Syria is a very bad idea.

My thoughts on Syria

It's hard for me to believe that we now have a Democrat in the White House--who got there in part by being against preemptive war--who is forcing UN inspectors to leave yet another mid-east country so that we can start bombing.

Arguing that we must attack because chemical weapons violate international norms is pretty rich. We gave Saddam Hussein his chemical weapons and helped him use them against Iran. Using atomic weapons violates international norms, but we're the only country who's done that. Preemptively bombing and invading other countries violates international norms, but we've done that. Torture violates international norms, but we've done that. Using cluster bombs and land mines violates international norms, but we refuse to sign on to treaties banning their use. We also refuse to sign up for the International Criminal Court because we want immunity from our war crimes. This is not exactly the ideal resume for international norm enforcer.

The best synopsis of the situation in Syria that I have read is from William Polk via James Fallows. I can't add much to what he says, but it's reassuring to know there are level-headed people that demand rigor when contemplating war. It's also good to see that the British people, Parliament, the American people, and perhaps even Congress, have learned something over the last decade about scrutinizing lame-ass excuses for going to war.

The one thought I can add is the potential political impact of attacking Syria. Military action there will go wrong--per the situations today in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. It will be the height of irony if Obama and Congressional Democrats rally the American people to a young upstart anti-war Senator named Rand Paul in 2016, but it's possible, especially against pro-war Hillary Clinton. Of course, it's also possible that she could once again lose the primary to an anti-war opponent, though sadly, I'm not sure who that might be.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reporting on Snowden

Mainstream American media sucks. I've come to terms with that. But, it's frustrating when even the usually-non-sucky media sucks. For instance, Dana Milbank, who usually doesn't suck (even though he works for The Washington Post, which does), writes this about Edward Snowden.
Snowden undermines his own cause in the U.S. At the start, Snowden's revelations to the Guardian and The Post promised to put him in the distinguished company of Daniel Ellsberg and others who exposed government wrongdoing. But rather than come home and face trial -- giving the nation the debate he claimed to seek about assaults on Americans' privacy -- he has allowed the story to become all about his life as a fugitive.” [all bold mine :c]
Get that? Snowden has "undermined his own cause" and "allowed" the story to become all about him. Yes, clearly that's what's happening here because Snowden has the power to control the story now that he has replaced Dana Milbank as a columnist at The Washington Post. Oh, wait, that hasn't happened? Then, I have no idea what the hell Milbank is talking about.

If anyone is undermining Snowden's cause, it's people like Milbank, who write things like this:
I still believe that Snowden was justified in leaking information about the NSA’s snooping. The administration’s collusion with the congressional intelligence committees had denied Americans the public debate they deserved about the trade-offs between security and privacy.
Milbank says this, yet he chooses to write about Snowden undermining his cause instead of digging into "the administration’s collusion with the congressional intelligence committees." By doing so, Milbank himself continues to deny "Americans the public debate they deserved about the trade-offs between security and privacy."

It's a well worn path. McClatchy, which usually doesn't suck too much -- they did some great reporting on Iraq -- also chooses to write about Snowden the cartoon character, rather than the secrets he revealed, because keeping up with "many thousands of words" would be "difficult". Seriously.
With many thousands of words written about Snowden from all over the world, it’s difficult to keep up with his own ever-changing story, much less keep track of his piecemeal disclosures of a sweeping U.S. surveillance program.
Wow. This is a major American newspaper admitting that it's just too difficult to wade through all the documents, so they're just going to cover Snowden's travel plans. If McClatchy really wants to "keep track of his piecemeal disclosures of a sweeping U.S. surveillance program," they might want to hire, or at least read Marcy Wheeler. She is single handedly doing the difficult work that The Washington Post, McClatchy, and the rest of the mainstream media can't or won't.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Is Josh Jealous?

Damnit. I didn't plan on this being bash-Josh-Marshall week, but minutes after my last post, I see his introduction to another solid piece by Brian Buetler:
We’ve written at length about how the rules of the congressional intelligence committees make it difficult to do real oversight of the intelligence community, but at a more fundamental level, they stymie efforts to legislate on intelligence matters. 
Who exactly is the "we" he refers to? It was Marshall who first stated that he'd prefer surveillance info be revealed by elected officials instead of unauthorized leakers. It was not Marshall, but one of his reporters, Brian Buetler, that showed why that was a dumb thing to say. Now, rather than admit he was wrong, Marshall wants to pretend that he's been right all along.

Furthermore, Marshall seems to suggest that his company has been at the forefront of this issue, which is not the case. Buetler has written a couple of solid articles since the Snowden leaks, but others, specifically Glenn Greenwald, have been talking about excessive government secrecy and the potential for domestic spying for years.

Which gets me to thinking...

Josh Marshall is not the only blogger/reporter who has surprised me with his negative reaction to Edward Snowden and/or Glen Greenwald. It seems to run counter to his usual tendencies--enough that I wonder if what I'm seeing isn't just professional jealosy. It is disappointing, but I think Marshall's initial reaction would have been very different if Snowden had contacted him at TPM instead of Greenwald at The Guardian.

Is Josh Learning?

Maybe. Two days later, Josh Marshall echoes the exact point I was making when he said he'd prefer disclosures of domestic spying be revealed by elected representatives instead of leakers like Edward Snowden.
Our report on why congressional oversight of the intelligence community doesn’t work very well and maybe isn’t supposed to. Fascinating piece.
In that report, TPM reporter Brian Buetler says:
...reports and briefings are only as accurate and thorough as briefers are forthright and comprehensive [bold mine :c] — a variable that has hampered oversight efforts for years, according to members, aides and former aides who spoke with TPM. Likewise the sometimes arbitrary and legally dubious restrictions on what senior congressional aides with top-secret clearance are given access to, and what and to whom elected officials are allowed to tell even each other, can hobble the legislative branch’s efforts to understand what our spy agencies are really up to, let alone fulfill the government’s statutory obligation to fully and currently inform the Congress.
I found the piece to be more of a confirmation of the obvious rather than fascinating, and it disappoints me that someone in Marshall's position was apparently oblivious to this dynamic until his own reporter pointed it out, but hey, baby steps.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Missing the point

In response to Edward Snowden's revelations of our domestic spying programs, supporters are rushing to defend the programs by highlighting terrorist plots that were disrupted because of the program. One of these success stories was the Mumbai attack that resulted in 160 deaths, which is a weird way of defining success, but that's been covered by others. Others have also pointed out that despite the occasional success stories, we've had failures like the Boston Marathon bombing. It seems, at best, we have a domestic spying program that sometimes succeeds in stopping terrorist attacks.

But, whether or not these programs occasionally stop terrorist attacks is not the point. The Constitution contains The Fourth Amendment, which states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
There's no clause that says the president or congress can ignore the fourth amendment just because they've succeeded in scaring the people about low probability events and have expensive tools that might prevent some of those events. That is the point.

Say it ain't so, Josh

Josh Marshall was the first political blogger that I started reading, so it disappoints me to hear this from him regarding the Edward Snowden story:
Who gets to decide? The totality of the officeholders who've been elected democratically - for better or worse - to make these decisions? Or Edward Snowden, some young guy I've never heard of before who espouses a political philosophy I don’t agree with and is now seeking refuge abroad for breaking the law? I don’t have a lot of problem answering that question.
Given the stories that Josh has covered over the years, including breaking the states attorneys scandal under George W. Bush, I'm shocked that he's so willing to trust our elected officials to keep check on the intelligence community.

Snowden's leak proved that James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, flat out lied to congress when asked about the collection of data on American citizens. So, how can we trust congress to oversee the intelligence agencies when we can't trust those agencies to reveal the truth to congress? It's not like this is the first time that intelligence officials have lied to congress. Iran-Contra anyone? And even when not deliberately lying, our intelligence agencies get things spectacularly wrong. Anyone found those Iraqi WMD's yet?

Furthermore, there's very little evidence that congress has any interest in providing real oversight. Just like congress defers matters of war to the president, they don't want to know too much about our spying programs, otherwise they could be held accountable when inevitable leaks like this occur. This enables them to play all the angles--point fingers, feign outrage, or pound their chests depending on their constituency.

The administration, the intelligence agencies, and congress now disingenuously claim that they welcome a national debate about surveillance versus privacy, but it was Snowden, not them, that initiated the discussion. It simply wasn't going to happen without his leak forcing the issue. So, to me, criticizing his methodology is admitting that he'd prefer everyone be kept in the dark, which is a strange preference for a political reporter.

Friday, March 29, 2013

What's Upton, Sinclair?

Another day, another David Brooks column, another opportunity to point out what a twit he is.

In today's column, Brooks talks about a "dazzling" paper written by one of his students. In that paper, the author, Victoria Buhler:
wonders if the mathematization of public policy performs a gatekeeper function; only the elite can understand the formulas that govern most people’s lives.
The author, and presumably Brooks, think having people who understand mathematics as gatekeepers of public policy is a bad thing. Given that this situation is purely fictional, and the exact opposite of the current gatekeeper situation, I think it would be fantastic. Of course, I am biased. I understand mathematics. David Brooks does not. For example, in this same column, he says:
Moreover, today’s students harbor the anxiety that in the race for global accomplishment, they may no longer be the best competitors. Chinese students spend 12-hour days in school, while American scores are middle of the pack.
Brooks is comparing apples and oranges here--Chinese hours in class versus American test scores. What is the reader to make of this? Do the extra hours pay off for the Chinese? He doesn't say. What tests are we talking about? He doesn't say. It does seem like he thinks American kids should be spending 12 hours a day in the classroom.

I'm sure he would be appalled, but I'd like to apply some mathematics to this common sense, gut-feel, public policy proposal. Let's start by assuming teachers are currently paid for a 40-hour work week (8 hours of class, 5 days a week) at a rate of X. Next, let's see what happens when those same teachers get paid for a 60-hour work week (12 hours of class, 5 days a week) at the same rate of X, but typical time-and-a-half for overtime hours beyond 40.
Scenario A. 8 hours/day. Weekly teacher pay = 40X
Scenario B. 12hours/day. Weekly teacher pay = 40X + 1.5*20X = 70X
Spending increase = (70X-40X)/40X = 30X/40X = 75%!!!
So, given that teacher pay is by far the largest cost of our education system, is Brooks suggesting that we increase public education spending by 75%? Probably not. As an anti-union conservative, maybe he expects teachers to work those extra hours for free--for the children you know. Maybe to avoid the overtime pay, he wants to hire more teachers, which would limit the increase in education spending to a still whopping 50%. More likely, it probably just didn't occur to him to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations of the impact of his "solution". Like so many other Republicans--hi Paul Ryan!--Brooks simply cares more about messaging than mathematics. His livelihood depends on it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Go F*ck Yourself Jorge

By now, everyone has seen the video where the girl is given 30 days in jail for flipping off the judge and telling him to go f*ck himself.  Here, we have two people acting like self-absorbed teenagers. Unfortunately, one of them actually is a teenager, while the other is a 60-some year old taxpayer-funded judge.

Of the two, I find the behavior of the judge to be far more offensive. Penelope Soto was in court for illegal possesion of Xanax. It was her first offense, she was not driving at the time, she did not hurt anyone, nor did she put anyone at risk other than herself. Despite all that, Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat initially set her bond at $5000. He seems to have arrived at this figure not by considering the risk of her not showing up for trial, the whole purpose of the bond, but by considering how deeply she bowed to his authority and the potential value of her jewelery.

When he condescendingly dismissed her with a "bye-bye", as if he was doing flight attendent skit on SNL instead of running a courtroom, she responded with "adios". For that, the judge called her back and doubled the bond. Who would've guessed that someone named Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat would take such offense at someone named Penelope Soto saying "adios"?

Understandably pissed, Soto flipped him the bird and said "go f*ck yourself" as she was leaving the courtroom. At that point, he called her back again, and sentenced her to 30-days in jail for contempt of court. This is the point where we're all supposed to cheer the actions of this hard-assed judge teaching this bratty girl a lesson. I, on the other hand, think he was being a petty, vindictive, tyrant who lacked the professionalism to rise above the situation. His job was to set the bond, not to issue a verdict, and certainly not to issue punishment.

Under the 1st amendment, we have the right to freedom of speech, including the freedom to tell Judge Rodriguez-Chomat to go f*ck himself. Ironically, the one place we can't do that is in the court room - you know, the place that's supposed to uphold our constitutional rights. However, we could stand outside the courthouse tomorrow and tell Judge Rodriguez-Chomat to go f*ck himself. It's perfectly legal. If I lived in Miami, I'd do just that, but I don't, so the internet will have to do. Voters in Miami-Dade can deliver their own message in 2016 when he's up for re-election.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

David Brooks' New Mockery Defense Strategy

David Brooks is making it so easy that mocking him isn't' near as fun as it used to be. In today's column he criticizes the Republican Party for living in a right-wing bubble:
In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them.
Change is hard because people don’t only think on the surface level. Deep down people have mental maps of reality — embedded sets of assumptions, narratives and terms that organize thinking. 
Mental maps of reality? You don't say! Brooks goes on to suggest that the way forward for the Republicans is: build a new division that is different the way the Westin is different than the Sheraton.
See what I mean? I could mock him by saying the Republicans should instead differentiate themselves by being more like a Mercedes instead of a BMW, or more like a Rolex instead of a Tag Heuer, but where's the sport in that? His pre-emptive self-mockery renders me powerless.

Monday, January 7, 2013

How did we win on gay marriage?

I've been thinking a lot about the quick change in public opinion over gay marriage. I think it's fascinating. There is no other hot-button issue in my lifetime that has evolved so quickly. How did it happen?

We had TV shows like Will & Grace, Ellen, and Rosie that may have softened the opposition, but there must be more to it than that. Maybe it was just more and more people coming out of the closet, showing their heterosexual friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that their homosexuality is nothing to fear.

The rapid change was certainly not due to high-profile leadership in support of gay marriage. On the other hand, there was plenty of high-profile leadership voicing opposition. It makes me it possible that Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, etc. were not only ineffective messengers, but so repellent that they inadvertently helped the very cause they opposed? I have no data, but I love that hypothesis.

In any case, it seems like a great topic for sociologists to study. Political strategists too. If we can figure out how we won on gay marriage, maybe we can figure out how to win on other issues as well.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Winning on Same Sex Marriage

In 2005, despite being heterosexual, I got married in Vancouver BC instead of my adopted hometown of Vancouver WA--specifically because British Columbia allowed same sex marriages and Washington did not. So, I'm happy that Washington has joined the ranks of the enlightened. I'm also happy that the Supreme Court will be ruling on a couple of same sex marriage cases. I think we're likely to see landmark decisions here, and I don't think we'll see narrow 5-4 rulings.

The number of Americans who approve of same sex marriage has increased greatly over the past decade. More than 50% now approve, and that number will only increase with time. I don't think any rational Supreme Court justice is going to stand in front of that train. Scalia and Thomas, yes, but I said rational. At best, they may get Alito to join them on the wrong side of history, but that's it. Roberts will certainly not thwart the will of the people this early in his reign. Plus, I think he will realize that Republicans might actually benefit by getting this losing issue off the table.

Before I could even post this, thrice-married Newt Gingrich and some current Republican congressmen have come out in favor of repealing DOMA and allowing same sex marriage. This is what I'm talking about. It's over, and we won.